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Alternative format suite (AFS)

The University boasts a state-of-the-art Alternative Format Suite. This is primarily focused towards the production of DAISY books (versatile audio books) for students with special needs or learning difficulties. Within the AFS a Braille printer is available on demand, and a service is currently available to University departments for the production of learning materials in this format.

  • We scan books, convert the scans using OCR and proof-read the resulting e-text. We work with MS Word which allows us to produce a versatile e-book, taking advantage of the display options in MS Word. The client can also have the e-text synthetically read out (and recorded if they have the equipment).
  • We also record books in audio, using live readers for clarity. The books we produce are full-audio-text DAISY 2.02 talking-books. Metadata is added to the DAISY books prior to building the MP3 version.

Diagrams, tables, figures etc, can be scripted and/or described: this takes a huge effort, depending on the complexity of the material; for best (and accurate) results, it is done with expert readers where possible.

The AFS operates thanks to the help of around 50 volunteers including local residents, University staff and students.

AFS Suite Equipment:

  • Two sound-proof recording booths.
  • Braille printer for type 1 and 2 braille
  • Mid-range voice synthesisers
  • OCR software
  • Two edge scanners for scanning books

Once an e-book has been produced, the digital copy can be made available on a web site for downloading (systems are required for copyright protection). The e-book could be in text form as an MS Word (.doc), plain text (.txt), HTML or PDF.

A talking book is held by AFS in two forms: raw WAV and compressed MP3. Either of these, along with the text versions above, can be offered via on-line streaming to legally entitled clients.

Copyright and access restrictions

Clients sign a form of their Copyright responsibility when they take possession of an e-book supplied by the AFS. We need to advertise that e-books are being created and stored (in the University Library) but due to copyright, they are not on Open Shelf access. Access to the e-book must be advertised as for print-disabled clients only.

If the client is registered blind, i.e. a member of the RNIB, then there is no problem with seeking copyright permission for producing an e-book. But if the client is not registered blind (for instance, is dyslexic) then permission is needed. This can take time to obtain from the copyright holder. Sometimes the copyright might have been sold to another publisher and we could be sent on a wild goose chase until we track down the current copyright holder, which may be a frustrating wait for permission.

Clients need to be aware of this so that they can plan ahead to seek permission if they need a book in electronic form.

How to request a digital copy of a book

Please contact Emma Brown in Student Services for further information or email disability@st-andrews.ac.uk. Student Services will then authorise the request and pass it on to AFS.

Further details about services provided by the Alternative Format Suite are available from the AFS manager Paresh Raval (email pr19, telephone 01334 46 2066).

Alternative Format Suite (AFS) volunteer readers

Small version

The Alternative Format Suite needs volunteers:

  • who can record onto PCs (or tape players if requested)
  • who are happy to listen to the recording and keep an accurate eye and ear on the recording to make sure that there are no mistakes as the recording is taking place
  • who are happy to scan and proof-read books.

The AFS provides all necessary training and instructions.

We don't have a budget to reimburse the volunteer's travel expenses.

For further details, please contact the AFS manager, Paresh Raval (email pr19, telephone 01334 46 2066)

Volunteer testimonials.